I have been in Japan almost a week now, but I feel as though I have only just arrived. Coming into the present had a lot to do with visiting Bunkyo-ku and meeting Keiji Ashizawa.
Bunkyo-ku is one of the special wards of Tokyo almost untouched from destructive modern development, and a small holding point of the old Japanese way. Most travellers don’t visit Bunkyo-ku, preferring to choose the ‘tourist tracks’. After speaking over a cool icy tea, and seeing Keiji’s work, he led me to a small Inn where we had Japanese beer and skittles and shared good company. The Lady of the Inn was generous and the place had a quiet spirit. We left and went on to enjoy delicious traditional Udon close by.
Keiji walked me to Nezu Shrine. It was haunting and the sounds of the night echoed in the silence. We walked through the row of Tori: each painted shades of a brilliant vermilion. Tori are gateways and mark the entrance of Shinto Shrines all over Japan. This experience was special though because of their number and smaller scale. At night the light flickered through the many rows; all the time giving one a feeling of connection and transition; passing through time or between worlds. I was moved and silent.
We had a little espresso stop at the interestingly named Bousingot; a sincere bookshop/cafe that specialises in historical Japanese novels, photographic journals, subversive texts and great espresso! In retrospect, I would need the coffee. Keiji knew what was coming next and I would need to be paying special attention. We walked along a slowly rising street. Keiji pointed out little double storey timber shops, and houses as well as a great number of Shrines.
And then suddenly we were in a cemetery; The Yanaka Cemetery. The air was cool and the cicada had stopped chanting. A small avenue lined with cherry blossom trees lay before us, with many old graves behind on either side. Keiji explained that the trees burst with cherry blossoms every year in April. At this time the cemetery becomes a gathering place for celebration and merriment.
A very special place at anytime of the year!